Blending Urban with Rural in the District of North Cowichan


The District of North Cowichan is one of the larger Vancouver Island municipalities, with a sprawling area of 194 square kilometres and a growing population of almost 28,000. The District has three neighbourhood centres, namely: Chemainus, Crofton and Maple Bay. Established in 1873, North Cowichan is also one of British Columbia's oldest municipalities.

North cowichan aerial


Design with Nature

The District has embraced ‘design with nature' as a philosophy for achieving integration of rainwater management and green infrastructure. A recent example underscores the desire of Council to fit in with nature.

“A recently approved multi-family development would ordinarily have triggered upgrading of an adjoining roadway, which would have resulted in loss of neighbourhood character. Instead, the decision was made to modify the road standard for the purpose of preserving the look-and-feel of a country road in an urban setting”, explains the District's Peter Nilsen.

Two projects in North Cowichan will be profiled as part of the Showcasing Innovation Series: the Echo Heights neighbourhood in Chemainus and the Stonegate subdivision.

Echo Heights in Chemainus

The approach to audience involvement will be customized so that it meets the needs of the District of North Cowichan in facilitating a local paradigm-shift. According to Kim Stephens, “This will be an interactive session as the District wishes to tap the expertise and commonsense of participants from other municipalities. Feedback from participants on how to implement green infrastructure will become input to the District's planning framework for Echo Heights.”

The session will be facilitated by Brigid Reynolds and Peter Nilsen of the District. “This segment will also frame the desired learning outcomes for the Ecovillage segment in the afternoon”, adds Stephens. The focus will be on how transferable is the Ecovillage experience to a small town setting.

Echo Heights is a 52-acre parcel of municipally owned land.  The Municipality proposed to develop it in the early 90's using a traditional single-family subdivision layout but market conditions postponed this initiative.  In 2005, the Municipality began a planning process to discuss how the parcel could be developed.    The property contains well used walking trails and various environmental features and residents expressed great concern regarding the development of what was considered a valuable community asset.

According to Brigid Reynolds, “The Municipality has been working through a Brigid reynolds, district of north cowichan (160pixels)planning process that has included a design charrette, community meetings, an environmental assessment as well as a traffic study to assess the property.  As a result of these initiatives, the proposal is to preserve more than fifty percent of the land to protect wildlife habitat, sensitive ecosystems and walking trails.  The remainder is proposed to be developed using on-site water treatment, geo-thermal heat, rainwater management source control…including green roofs, infiltration galleries, and rain gardens.  While the development is still controversial, municipal staff continue to flesh out the proposal which will be considered by Council in the near future.”

“Riparian buffer zones will be retained.  In addition, carriage houses and other affordable housing options will be included in the development”, adds Reynolds.

As currently envisioned, Echo Heights would have every kind of housing, varying from single family through multi-family. This opens the door to implementing different technologies – for example, green roofs.

“The municipality can do this because it owns the land. The broader goal, however, is to demonstrate to private developers what is possible”, concludes Peter Nilsen.

Stonegate Subdivision

The Stonegate subdivision, the second case study that will be profiled on September 28, illustrates what can be accomplished by a progressive municipality when there is a ‘willing developer'.

According to Peter Nilsen, “Originally a conventional subdivision design was Peter nilsen, district of north cowichan (160pixels)proposed for this piece of land. If this design had gone ahead, it would have resulted in loss of a small wetland because it falls outside the scope of riparian area protection. When the land was sold, however, we explained to the new owner and his consultant what the District would like to see….in terms of applying a green way-of-thinking in order to develop an innovative on-the-ground solution.”

“Now we have a plan that protects the wetland and makes it a feature of the development in conjunction with a walking trail. Stonegate will also be the first subdivision to apply green infrastructure measures for rainwater management”, concludes Nilsen.



Showcasing Innovation Series

The Cowichan Valley Regional District, District of North Cowichan, and City of Duncan  will co-host the second event in a series of three events that comprise Showcasing Green Infrastructure Innovation on Vancouver Island: The 2007 Series. The Cowichan event will be on Friday, September 28. For complete information on the Cowichan program, please click here.


Posted August 2007